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Gender Equality Mainstreaming for Business Growth and Impact

Women are key drivers of economic growth, engaging in business as consumers, employees, leaders, suppliers and community stakeholders. Yet, women are frequently overlooked and underrepresented in the private sector throughout the world. 2017 marked the first year that the Global Gender Gap – an index measuring 144 countries’ gender disparity in health, education, politics and the workplace – worsened since its inception in 2006 (WEF). Recent events like the #MeToo campaign signal a sea change for the world, including the corporate sphere. This is good news, since $28 trillion could be added to annual global GDP by 2025 if women participated in the economy at the same level as men (McKinsey, 2015). Businesses and investors who seek to understand and respond to the barriers women face will be rewarded – both in terms of growth and impact.

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GEM Framework

GEM Photo

The number of gender-specific business opportunities available to companies is virtually limitless. For example, companies are designing products to address women’s needs, such as through the introduction of female crash test dummies in automaker’s safety tests (Medium, 2015). Businesses with at least one female board member generate compound excess returns of 3.5% per annum, as compared to companies with no women on the board (Credit Suisse, 2016). However, female founders receive a paltry USD $1.46 billion compared to $58.2 billion for all-male founder teams (Fortune, 2017) despite the fact that venture capital funds like First Round Capital find female founders’ companies outperform their male counterparts by 63% (HBR, 2017). Managers who choose to ignore gender as a material factor for business growth do so at their own risk.

For many organizations, gender mainstreaming can seem daunting. Often the most difficult part is to begin. To support businesses, investors, funders and capacity builders in exploring how target companies can maximize the returns offered by gender equality, MEDA created the Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) Framework.

The GEM Framework

The Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) Framework is a practical manual and toolkit for assessing gender equality, and identifying, implementing and measuring gender equality mainstreaming strategies within companies. The framework builds upon the environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment standard by mainstreaming gender across ESG criteria.

Designed for organizations seeking financial and impact returns through investing or providing support to companies, the manual is applicable to a wide range of investors (e.g. private equity funds, government donors, foundations) and capacity builders (e.g. accelerators, technical assistance providers, NGOs). The ultimate aim of the framework is to transform companies to be more gender equitable while supporting business growth and impact.

Click here to take the
GEM Self-Assessment

After completing the GEM self-assessment, MEDA presents the following recommendations on how to mainstream gender equality in environmental, social and governance components to improve company growth and impact.

Environment SocialGovernance

The GEM self-assessment

Companies seeking to measure their gender performance and identify opportunities for improvement can benefit from taking the GEM self-assessment. Completed by businesses themselves, the GEM self-assessment analyzes a company’s inclusion of women and provides a gender score for each component of ESG. Depending on the score achieved, businesses receive recommendations on ways to mainstream gender in business operations.

What is gender?

We use the term ‘gender’ not ‘women’ because equality can only be achieved through engaging women and men in co-creating the future we seek. Whereas biological sex is determined by genetic and anatomical characteristics, gender is an acquired identity that is learned, changes over time, and varies widely within and across cultures (WEPs, 2011). Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, relationships and expectations of women and men and how these are reinforced by educational, political, economic and cultural systems (SSIR, 2014). These deeply ingrained gender norms, which perpetuate gender inequality, can be broken through engaging men and women in dialogue and collective action. As a result, the GEM Framework supports progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular contributing to Goal 5, Gender Equality.

Questions or comments?

If you have any questions or comments, please send an email to Devon at  

Ghana ClientAbout MEDA

A non-profit international development organization, Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) creates business solutions to poverty. For over 60 years, MEDA has designed and implemented innovative and effective market-driven programs around the world. Our private sector solutions catalyze the earning potential of millions of disadvantaged women, men and youth, integrating them into viable economic systems. Founded by a small group of business people, our aim is to achieve inclusive, sustainable, scalable and measurable outcomes. MEDA is recognized as a global leader in blended finance and impact investing, inclusive financial services, market systems, rural and agricultural development, gender equality mainstreaming, women’s economic empowerment, youth workforce development and green growth. You can learn more about MEDA at

About the GEM Framework

From pioneering the development of the microfinance industry to originating breakthrough business service models for women in fragile states, MEDA has been at the forefront of integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment with innovation in private sector development.

Building upon this expertise, MEDA recently launched its GEM Framework for assessing and improving performance of companies in gender inclusion and women’s economic empowerment. The GEM Framework, funded by USAID, was designed for and tested on Sarona Asset Management’s investments – that is, local private equity funds and their portfolio companies in emerging and frontier markets. Participating companies reported better analysis of the positive relationship between financial performance and gender, and expect to achieve business outcomes as a result of implementing gender mainstreaming strategies.  The GEM Framework offers a suite of tools for companies to upgrade business operations by mainstreaming gender across environmental, social and governance (ESG) areas. This alignment with the ESG investment standard promotes adoption in an industry that is increasingly ESG-compliant.

References cited

Credit Suisse (2016). The CS Gender 3000: The Reward for Change. Retrieved from 

DuBow, W. & Pruitt A. (2017, September 18). The Comprehensive Case for Investing More VC Money in Women-Led Startups. Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from

Ely, K. (2018, September 8). The World is Designed for Men: how bias is built into our daily lives. Medium. Retrieved from

Heller, A. (2017, November 14). ‘Weinstein Effect’ goes global as powerful men confronted. The Denver Post. Retrieved from

Ho, G. & Tsoi, G. (2018, January 8). Will #MeToo spread in China? BBC. Retrieved from

Kaplan, S. & VanderBrug, J. (2014, Fall) The Rise of Gender Capitalism. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from

Reuters. (2017, October 25). Uber Sued for Alleged Racial, Gender Discrimination. Fortune. Retrieved from

The Global Gender Gap Report. (2017). World Economic Forum. Retrieved from

UN Global Compact (2011). Women’s Empowerment Principles. Retrieved from

Woetzel, J. et al. (2015, September). How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. McKinsey Global Institute. Retrieved from 

Zarya, V. (2017, March 13). Venture Capital’s Funding Gap is Actually Getting Worse. Fortune. Retrieved from